Happy Knees, Happy Winter!
The winter is coming, which can excite some of us more than others. In order to happily survive in a cold climate like Vermont throughout the winter, most folks find it helpful to do activities outdoors that they enjoy or continue to exercise indoors. Some of that can bring on knee pain, which is what we’ll focus on today.
Whether we are shoveling or skiing this winter, we all have to maintain some level of activity during these cold winter months. The knee is an essential joint that allow us to squat, kneel, lift, and move with freedom. Knee pain can be due to a number of reasons, including arthritis, joint stiffness, tendon pain or even hip tightness. Often knee pain is due to poor alignment of the lower leg, such as a collapsed arch, or hips that are limited and tight. This places more stress on the knee joint which can cause pain with movements.
Although all knee pain is different, some standard movements that can help the knees especially are quad and hip flexor stretches. We are often tight and limited along the front of our hips due to most of our lifestyles that involve sitting and walking which shorten our hip flexors. Two easy stretches you can do to improve this are the standing quad stretch (left) and kneeling hip flexor stretch (right), respectively seen below.
You should feel this stretch in the front of your thigh or even into your groin. Hold a minimum of 30 seconds to get true muscle length changes.
Skiing is a popular winter sport that many of us partake in Vermont. In order to get the legs ready to hit the slopes, some strengthening exercises will gear us towards being ready for the quad burn that is real with skiing. Not only do we want to keep flexible with the above stretches, we also want to build muscle so we can endure long ski days without getting too tired. Two good strengthening exercises are the wall sit and the cyclist squat.
The goal of a wall sit (below) is to increase the time in a squat position and build both quad and hamstring strength. Place you back against the wall, feet out in front of you and slide down to a squat position that feels challenging, but something you can hold for a minimum of 15 seconds. You will feel muscles working along your quads. Try to do at least 5 rounds of these. You should not have any knee pain if these are appropriate for you.
My other favorite strengthening exercise for skiing is a cyclist squat (below). This prepares the knees going over the toes, which is a position that lends itself towards skiing as the weight should be shifted forward into the toes rather than the heels. The goal with the cyclist squat is both mobility (flexibility) of the knees as well as strengthening. Stand with your heels elevated on a small object such as a short step or 1-2 surface. Go in a squat position with your chest upright, hold for a pause, then come back up. If you have any knee pain, do not go as low into the squat. Try to perform 3x15 of these, and if that feels easy, add some light weight by holding in front of you.
Give these a try to keep your winter a little more bright. Happy knees, happy winter!